The Old Man and the Sea Book Review
The Old Man and the Sea won a Nobel Prize in literature. I need not, therefore, write a traditional Old Man and the Sea book review because the Nobel Prize speaks for itself. My book review is different. It’s geared toward high school English teachers trying to decide on novels to teach (Click on "novels for high school" above for more reviews). I’ve also included literary elements worth teaching, a short summary, and lesson ideas.
I’ve enjoyed great success teaching The Old Man and the Sea, both as a novel for the whole class and as part of independent reading. I’ve had several students claim it was the first "real" book they’d ever read cover to cover. Here are some specific aspects of the novel that make it excellent for teaching in high school.
The Old Man and the Sea Lesson Plans: Write a Book Review
This Old Man and the Sea Book Review is part of my Old Man and the Sea lesson plans. Have each student do the following after reading the novel:
- Write a brief summary of it–100-200 words.
- Write a brief Old Man and the Sea analysis, extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
- List teaching ideas for the novel, 3-4 ideas in a bulleted list.
- Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.
Old Man and the Sea Summary (5 out of 5)
Santiago has gone 84 days without catching a fish. Santiago makes a living by catching fish. Not good.
The other fishermen consider Santiago bad luck, all except his young friend Manolin, whose father refuses to allow him to fish with the old man on account of his bad luck. Despite his old age and his perceived bad luck, Santiago remains optimistic. He sails far out in the sea, too far he later admits, beyond the others, in order to garner a prize catch.
He eventually hooks a huge marlin, who Santiago respects as a worthy opponent. The two battle each other, isolated from all help. After three days of suffering Santiago reals in the marlin, ties it to the side of his skiff, and heads to land.
Then come the sharks.
Sharks enjoy a tasty marlin. They are attracted by the smell of marlin blood and nibble away at Santiago’s prize catch. Santiago fights them off but is unable to save his vanquished marlin from the predatory sharks. He arrives home safely with nothing but the skeletal remains of one of the greatest fish ever caught and the honor of having fought valiantly in the face of certain defeat.
The Old Man and the Sea: Literary Merit and Teachability (5 out of 5)
The Old Man and the Sea won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It obviously has literary merit. More importantly it’s teachable: it’s short; it’s suspenseful; it’s accessible. Focus on the following literary aspects as part of your Old Man and the Sea lesson plans:
- Modernism – For advanced students, focus on Hemingway’s modern style.
- Allegory – Many critics consider the novel an allegory, for example, Santiago (St. James) receives injuries to the palms of his hands and rope marks along his back and shoulders.
- Symbolism – In addition to allegorical symbols like the ones above, Hemingway includes others. For a complete list, check out The Old Man and the Sea study guide.
- Themes – Hemingway compared his writing style to the composition of an iceberg; that is most of the meaning to his writing is under the surface. In other words, there’s a lot more to the novel than an old man trying to catch a fish.
- Conflict – There’s Santiago vs. the Marlin and the sharks (Man v. Nature); Santiago vs. himself (Man vs. Self); Santiago vs. The fishermen who ridicule him (Individual vs. Society); and Santiago vs. Old Age/Death (Man vs. Self or the Supernatural perhaps).
The Old Man and the Sea Lesson Plans (5 out of 5)
There are numerous resources on the web for Old Man and the Sea Lesson Plans. Here are some ideas:
- Teach modernism – Understanding the context of Hemingway’s life and philosophy gives the novel added meaning. Using the audiobook of The Old Man and the Sea will help students recognize Hemingway’s modern style.
- Teach allegory – Adapt this lesson plan on allegory in Of Mice and Men to teach allegory in The Old Man and the Sea.
Teach conflict – It’s common to categorize conflict. In The Old Man and the Sea (and in life), the conflicts are intertwined–for example, is Santiago battling a fish or himself? Does he go out too far to prove to himself he’s a fishermen or to prove to those ridiculing him that he’s a fishermen. Use the following idea:
- Create a list of 10 passages, facts, events that involve conflict.
- Instruct students to categorize each one. There can be more than one conflict for each event or quotation.
- Discuss answers.
- Teach nature. Show one of those Discovery channel episodes on sharks after you read about Santiago catching the marlin. To make it really fun, bring in a giant tank full of sharks and throw in the first student who misbehaves. The other students will love it.
This post is part of the series: Novels for High School
- Novels in High School: Brave New World Analysis and Review
- Novels for High School: The Old Man and the Sea Book Review
- Novels for High School Students: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- A Review of The Catcher in the Rye for High School Teachers with Lesson Plans for The Catcher in the Rye
- Red Badge of Courage Review with Lesson Plan